Asylum seekers entering Canada outside legal border points cost an average of $14K each: PBO
Parliamentary budget office estimates total federal cost to be nearly $400M in 2019-2020
The federal government spends an average of about $14,000 for each asylum seeker crossing into Canada outside of legal border points — a cost that's expected to rise as the case backlog grows, says Canada's budget watchdog.
In a report released Thursday — Costing Irregular Migration Across Canada's Southern Border — Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux said the total cost for the asylum claims process was about $340 million in 2017-2018 and is expected to rise to $396 million in 2019-2020.
He said some of the accounting is based on average costing for all refugee claimants, because the federal government does not track separate data for "irregular" asylum claimants. Aside from some added costs for RCMP interventions, the average costs for claimants crossing illegally would be same as those for all refugee claimants.
The federal government set aside an extra $173 million over two years in this year's budget to cover the additional costs related to asylum seekers crossing into Canada outside of legal border points. Giroux said that sum "falls short significantly."
"Our estimates suggest that they have not budgeted enough, which will result in increased backlog at the Immigration and Refugee Board," he said.
The $173 million was based on an annual influx of 5,000 to 8,000 individuals, rather than the actual number of 23,000 per year, Giroux said.
The costs tallied in the report are for federal organizations such as the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the Immigration and Refugee Board. They do not include expenses incurred by the provinces, territories or municipalities, which pick up costs related to social services.
Ontario, for example, has estimated its costs related to asylum seekers arriving outside official border points at about $200 million a year.
The report comes after the City of Toronto made a new request for an additional $64.5 million from the federal government to deal with the "unsustainable" operational and financial pressures associated with refugee and asylum claimants.
The city says that about 40 per cent of Toronto shelter users are refugees or asylum claimants — a jump from 11 per cent in early 2016 and 25 per cent in late 2017.
Toronto asks for $64.5M
Toronto is asking for $64.5 million to reimburse its costs and ongoing, stable funding of $43 million a year starting in 2019.
"The city can't do this alone. The federal government has come forward with initial help but we need the continued assistance of our federal and provincial partners to ensure that Toronto remains a safe, welcoming and accessible place for all," said Mayor John Tory in a statement.
In June, the federal government pledged $50 million for Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba. Ontario's share of $11 million went directly to Toronto after the provincial government scoffed at the amount.
Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government has asked Ottawa for $200 million to defray the costs of social assistance, housing and education associated with asylum seekers.
The cost per asylum seeker varies from about $10,000 for a simple case — where the claim is accepted — to about $34,000 for a more complex case ending in the claimant exhausting all appeals and being deported.
Giroux said that as the number of asylum seekers rises, the cost increases because of the backlog in cases. Costs are driven up, in part, because the refugee claimants are entitled to the interim federal health benefit, which covers certain health-care costs for refugee claimants until they're eligible for provincial or territorial health insurance.
"Increasing the backlog means individuals have to stay in limbo for a number of years, and we estimate that could rise to five or six years in some cases," he said.
Figures 'absolutely shocking'
Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said some of the figures in the report are "absolutely shocking," given that the total costs for a single asylum seeker could be in the range of a gross salary of a minimum wage worker in Canada.
"It just blows my mind that between 2017 through the next fiscal year this prime minister is choosing to spend $1.1 billion on essentially what amounts to the abuse of our asylum system," she said.
Rempel said the Conservatives will make a formal request to the federal auditor general for a comprehensive audit of the broader costs of illegal border-crossers to government.
She blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for driving the trend by refusing to close a "loophole" in the Safe Third Country agreement with the U.S., which requires that asylum seekers make their claim in the first 'safe' country they arrive in. The Conservatives have been urging the government to end an exception that allows people to sidestep that rule if they cross outside official border points.
Rempel also referenced Trudeau's Jan. 28, 2017 tweet in which he welcomed to Canada those fleeing persecution, terror and war in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's immigration crackdown.
It was retweeted more than 400,000 times, and liked by more than 750,000 people.
To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WelcomeToCanada?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WelcomeToCanada</a>—@JustinTrudeau
Border Security Minister Bill Blair insisted the government is giving the refugee system the resources it needs while making improvements to reduce the number of people presenting outside official border points.
He said Canada is just one of many countries hit by the surge in global migration.
"Our obligation is to ensure that we manage that in a cost effective, efficient way according to Canadian law and our international obligations, and as well in accordance with Canadian values," he said. "I think that's what's expected of us."
Tens of thousands of people have crossed into Canada outside of official border points in the last year, mostly in Quebec and Manitoba.
The costs of housing them, and the question of who should pay, have become major political issues in cities such as Toronto and Montreal, which are under pressure to shelter and support the new arrivals.
The PBO agreed to a request from Conservative MP Larry Maguire last June for a global accounting exercise to add up the costs incurred to date from these migrants, and to indicate how much the stepped-up pace of irregular migration might cost Canada in the future.